Anatomy of Melancholy, 221-222 – Pt. I, Sec. 2, Mem. II, Subs. 1 – Bad Diet a Cause. Substance. Quality of Meats (continued again)


Hey look, I’m back at work on the read-along! I picked up where I left off: reading the parts of The Anatomy of Melancholy that have not been read in approximately four hundred years. It has been a rough reentry.

Today, I read about fruits and vegetables, also known as vegetals. All classical, Medieval, and early modern scholars and “doctors” agree: don’t eat them! They are all “windy and bad.” From what I can tell, virtually everything you eat will “send gross fumes to the brain” and “breed melancholy mood.” Absolutely no leafy greens, or “herbs” as Burton calls them: “All herbs are simply evil to feed on (as [Magninus] thinks).”

If you must eat food, eat parsnips. I’m sure they will go nicely with those baby pigeons from a few pages back. Just know though that you will still get mild indigestion, an overheated brain, and possibly a little blood-putrefaction. Was everyone in the 16th century just permanently sick? I suspect yes, but might have been more parasites than parsnips.

Anyways, I drew root vegetables today because A) They are “windy” and B) I like them. Did you know that potatoes were introduced to Europe from the Americas in the late 16th century? So to Burton, maybe potatoes would have been new and exciting as well as “full of harmful juices.”

Oh, and also informative, it appears that poking fun at vegetarians is a very old tradition:


“Non ego coenam condio ut alii coqui solent,
Qui mihi condita prata in patinis proferunt,
Boves qui convivas faciunt, herbasque aggerunt.”

“Like other cooks I do not supper dress,
That put whole meadows into a platter,
And make no better of their guests than beeves,
With herbs and grass to feed them fatter.”


That’s from Pseudolus, a super old Roman play by Titus Maccius Plautus. Now you can insult your vegetarian friends in Latin and be even more of a smug asshat than you already were. Make sure to use the word “beeves” in your inevitable mis-translation! (Personally I enjoy a good meadow platter.)


This post is part of a long, tedious, and very illustrated read-along of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. More info here and follow along on Facebook here. Illustrations posted via devon_isadevon on Instagram.

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